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Fundraising in gear for child psychiatric hospital expansion at UnityPoint Health-Meriter

September 23, 2018

UnityPoint Health-Meriter is starting a fundraising campaign for a $13 million expansion of its Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Hospital, which has turned away patients in recent years because of limited capacity.

With $1.2 million donated privately and the hospital planning to spend $10 million, the Meriter Foundation aims to raise another $1.8 million to add 10 beds to the 20-bed hospital, along with additional space for outpatient treatment.

“We’re really hoping to minimize the wait list,” said Dr. Katie Schmitt, medical director of the hospital, which opened on Madison’s Southwest Side in 2004. “The need has increased.”

Olivia Tompach, 15, spent a week at the hospital in February after a suicide attempt linked to depression and anxiety.

“I kind of fell down a hole, and I couldn’t get out,” said Olivia, a sophomore at Middleton High School.

In group therapy sessions, she listened to other teens dealing with mood disorders. “You get to hear everyone’s story, and they give you feedback,” she said.

Staff helped Olivia compile a safety kit, with a squishy star, koosh balls and lavender to feel and smell when she’s feeling anxious. The kit, a yellow cardboard box, also contains a list of people to call when she needs help and positive things she can do when she becomes withdrawn.

Some of the helpful steps: play with her younger brother, bake a cake, talk to certain friends and take a hot bath.

Olivia’s mother, Tina Noel, is co-chair of the hospital expansion fundraising campaign. She and her husband, Tyler, who have four children ages 11 to 17, are hosting a large dinner event Saturday night, which Meriter considers the kickoff to the public phase of the campaign.

Bringing Olivia to the psychiatric hospital “was the hardest thing but the best thing we’ve ever done,” Tina Noel said. “You left there with this whole team of people taking care of your child.”

Increased demand for mental health services has forced the hospital to turn away patients, especially during the school year, Schmitt said.

The hospital admitted 804 patients last year, up from 632 in 2010 and 461 in 2004. When Madison-area children or teens need inpatient psychiatric care but can’t get in at Meriter, they generally go to one of seven other private units in the state, the closest of which is Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc.

The Meriter hospital has two main wings: eight beds for patients ages 6 to 12, and 12 beds for those ages 13 to 18.

Groundbreaking on the expansion, which will double the footprint of the hospital, is expected in October. Some of the new space should be ready by fall 2019, with the remainder open by spring 2020, Schmitt said.

A new inpatient wing, with 10 beds, likely will become a “tweener unit,” for patients ages 10 to 13, she said. The other wings will be for ages 6 to 9 and ages 14 to 18, though placement depends on individual needs.

A new outpatient wing will restore partial hospitalization, which ended a few years ago, and add day treatment. Both are daily programs that don’t involve overnight stays.

The expansion will also add programming space, including a new room for mindfulness and movement-based therapy, and outdoor garden and recreation areas.

After Olivia Tompach returned to school following her stay, she posted on Instagram that she had been at the psychiatric hospital because of a suicide attempt.

“I spent the week there learning how to cope with my depression and anxiety,” she wrote. “It was a special week learning about myself and others in my same situation.”

The response from fellow students was overwhelmingly positive, with many cheering her on and some sharing their mental health challenges, she said.

A member of the swim team, Olivia is feeling better now. “I’ve had my ups and downs, but it’s definitely more ups,” she said.

“I’ve been back to my old, weird, loud self,” Olivia said.

“I concur,” her mother chimed in. “I feel like I have my daughter back.”

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